The Chinese used to have a reputation for being the land of “cheap imitations”, ranging from the Pear phone to the X-Boy video game console to the Kine pool sliders… to the advanced, fifth-generation fighter aircraft.
Wait a second… Strike that last one.
China really has made its own fifth-generation fighter airplane. It is the Chengdu J-20A, it’s a masterpiece, and it is absolutely no knockoff.
In October 2017, as a matter of fact, this plane was reported by China as ready for mass-production. This plane is capable of Mach 2, or 1,304 mph (2100 km/h). It is stealthy, with emphasis on front-side stealth (good for not detecting this plane as it flies towards you). Enhanced engines with special jagged edge tiles and nozzles promote a stealthy side view (or lack of it).
One of the criticisms that seems to hearken back to the old “Chinese knockoff” reputation was that the J-20 is capable of performance on the level held by the American F-22 Raptor, if the J-20A had the right engine.
This is something the Chinese certainly know, and this matter was among those addressed by Yang Wei, the J-20A’s chief engineer, in an exclusive interview he gave to the state-run China Daily newspaper earlier in the week of March 12, 2018.
We are not complacent about what we have achieved. We will develop the J-20[A] into a large family and keep strengthening its information-processing and intelligent capacities. At the same time, we will think about our next-generation combat plane to meet the nation’s future requirements…
“In the past, we had to follow others’ paths when it came to designing military aircraft because our research and development capabilities were primitive in this regard, but now we have become capable of designing and making what we want to have.“
Indeed this last statement has become indicative of the immense design and manufacturing prowess the Chinese have developed in recent decades. The Chinese have shown themselves increasingly capable of the highest quality of design and engineering formerly thought unreachable to them.
While The Diplomat’s Franz-Stefan Gady still cast doubts on the development of the WS-15 turbofan engine, which would give the J-20A its full capabilities, he does note that the plane’s current configuration (using an unknown variant of Russia’s old Saturn AL-31engine) still allows it to perform supersonic cruising (supercruise) without the use of its afterburners.
We provide some currently known specifications, courtesy of Wikipedia. Note that where the specifications differ from the article above, it is presumed that the article carries the more accurate information.
Data from Aviation Week & Space Technology
- Crew: one (pilot)
- Length: 20.4 m (66.8 ft)
- Wingspan: 13.5 m (44.2 ft)
- Height: 4.45 m (14 ft 7 in)
- Wing area: 78 m2 (840 sq ft)
- Empty weight: 19,391 kg (42,750 lb)
- Gross weight: 32,092 kg (70,750 lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 36,288 kg (80,001 lb) upper estimate
- Fuel capacity: 11,340 kg (25,000 lb) internally, or 19,340 kg (42,600 lb) with 4×2,400L external fuel tanks
- Powerplant: 2 × Shenyang WS-10G (prototype) afterburning turbofans, 87 kN (19,500 lbf) thrust each dry, 140 kN (32,000 lbf) with afterburner
- Maximum speed: 2,100 km/h (1,305 mph; 1,134 kn)
- Wing loading: 410 kg/m2 (84 lb/sq ft)
- Thrust/weight: 1.06 (prototype with interim engines)
- PL-8 short range AAM
- PL-10 SRAAM
- PL-12 Medium Range AAM
- PL-21 Long Range AAM
- LS-6 Precision-guided bomb
- Type 1475 (KLJ-5) active electronically scanned array
- EOTS-86 electro-optical targeting system
- EORD-31 infrared search and track
- Distributed aperture system
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.